Herpes is the most common form of sexually transmitted disease, with more than 536 million infected worldwide. Judy Lieberman, a Harvard Medical School professor of pediatrics has lead a team of researchers to develop a topical treatment that disables the herpes gene in mice. If this process can be duplicated for humans this will be a huge breakthrough in the prevention of the herpes virus.
Their findings were just released in an issue of Cell Host & Microbe in January 2009. The results show that the two elements that are necessary in the spreading of the herpes virus are both stopped with this treatment.
Researchers could not see any ill effects of the topical treatment nor damage to the function of the cells.
The topical treatment uses a process known as RNAi (or RNA interference) to block the virus’ natural duplication process. RNAi is a natural biological process which just came to light ten years ago. It’s breakthrough won a Nobel Prize in 2006. This process allows researchers to effectively turn off certain genes.
New RNAi based drugs are a result of this new technology and new medical breakthroughs. Progress has been slow due to difficulties delivering the molecules into the cell membranes. With new technologies many of these difficulties have been overcome.
This drug can be applied one week prior to exposure up to a few hours after exposure to the herpes virus and still be effective. The topical treatment creates a resistant to the virus in the patient. Even though it has only been tested so far on mice, if it does produce the same effects on humans it will be a huge breakthrough. Scientist have been working on a cure such as this one for many years.
More women have the herpes virus than men. This makes child birth very dangerous because the infection can lead to brain damage and death if it is passed to the infant during child birth. It is not life threatening in adults, but having the herpes simplex 2 virus does make people more susceptible to other illnesses such as HIV.
Lieberman has now been awarded a grant to continue her work on the treatment and hopefully produce a form of the topical treatment that can be used on humans. This is very exciting news for the medical community and the worldwide community. We are now at the doorstep of a major breakthrough for the prevention of the herpes simplex 2 virus.
Cell Host & Microbe, January 22, 2009, Vol 5 No. 1
Durable Protection from Herpes Simplex Virus-2 Transmission Following Intravaginal Application of siRNAs Targeting Both a Viral and Host Gene